Another Highway Trust Fund Bill Extension!

Two plus years ago, under the guidance of James Oberstar (D MN) Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Committee started working on a new Highway Trust Fund Bill in an effort to prevent this very thing from happening. SAFETEA-LU was scheduled to expire in September 2009, and it did. Prior to that expiration the House Committee did submit a new bill for congressional consideration. Of course, it passed the house and got stuck in the quagmire we know as the Senate. Since September 2009 the expired bill had been extended twice and once again expired on February 28, 2010. Two days ago the bill was again extended for 30 days.

This may solve the immediate problems, which include keeping some 2,000 plus DOT employees working, but it does nothing the economic problems the country is currently facing.

What’s going on with the bill?

Senate Extends Highway Trust Fund; 
DOT Employees Back On The Job Wednesday

Posted yesterday on the Fast Lane, The Official Blog of The Secretary of Transportation

“I am so pleased to report that the Senate acted late tonight to break its logjam, extending the Highway Trust Fund for another 30 days.

“This means that our valued employees who were placed on furlough Monday, should return to work Wednesday morning.

“I am very happy to have all of you back at work, serving the public. And I regret the hardship that this legislative impasse put you through.

“This means that your important work–getting the economy back on its feet, ensuring Americans’ safety, and keeping critical construction projects moving–will be able to continue.”

The following article appeared in Logistics Management yesterday.

Transportation Infrastructure: Senate approves measure to extend surface transportation funding

Following days of uncertainty, another continuing resolution lets highway and transit funding remain solvent for 30 days

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor — Logistics Management, 3/3/2010

Following a political stalemate which earlier this week led to a temporary stoppage of United States highway construction projects and the Highway Trust Fund and roughly 2,000 Department of Transportation (DOT) employees being furloughed, the United States Senate passed a vote to extend federal highway and transit funding-and other measures-for 30 days.

President Barack Obama signed this measure into law.

This follows a February 25 vote by the U.S. House of Representatives on a measure to extend the funding through March 28. But it is not a done deal on the Senate side, with Senator Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) blocking a request by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for unanimous consent to move an extension of highway and transit funding and other programs or laws that expired February 28.

As LM has previously reported, this funding, which goes toward surface transportation maintenance, development, and construction, has been kept afloat by multiple continuing resolutions typically ranging from four-to-seven weeks and keep funding at current levels. This follows the Senate passing of the $15 billion Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act earlier this week.

A major component of this bill would extend highway and transit programs through the end of 2010, as well as transfer $20 billion from the United States General Trust Fund to the Highway Trust Fund in interest foregone since 1998. And the bill’s text added it would also halt annual payments that the Highway Trust Fund makes to the General Trust Fund as reimbursement for tax-exempt users of the highway program, including state and local fleets and transit providers.

Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement that this vote is a step in the right direction.

“I am pleased that the Senate has acted to break its logjam and extend the Highway Trust Fund for another 30 days,” LaHood said. “This means that our valued employees may return to work. It also means that their important work getting the economy back on its feet, ensuring Americans’ safety, and keeping critical construction projects moving will be able to continue.”

While this measure is a step in the right direction, it is clear that it is not an ideal situation, according to Leslie Blakey, executive director of the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors.

“On one hand, it is a good thing to have the work picked back up, but it is only for 30 days and does not give us much security in the sense to look ahead, feel confident and get a platform to keep our transportation moving,” said Blakey. “We need a better foundation than one month at a time and need to get a real bill passed, which is fully-funded and addresses its financing issues.”
For freight and goods movement, Blakey said that a new bill needs a dedicated freight fund as multi-modal, long-term projects take a long time to complete. And construction interruptions for these projects are costly and problematic, due to the complex nature of these projects-with a stop and start approach being detrimental to the country’s economic competitiveness and ability to move forward and keep commerce moving.

The need for a new surface transportation authorization was echoed by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). In a Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing on “The Importance of Transportation Investments to the National Economy and Jobs,” Boxer noted that infrastructure investments enhance business productivity by reducing disruptions that waste money, time, and fuel and undermine the country’s competitiveness.

“The next highway, transit and highway safety authorization provides an opportunity to take a fresh look at these programs and make the changes necessary to ensure our transportation system will meet America’s needs in the coming years,” said Boxer. “At the end of the day it’s a matter of setting the right priorities and crafting innovative and effective means to address them.”

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